Saturday, May 6, 2023: Putting a memorable stamp on the second post-pandemic iteration of an annual springtime tradition sent to the cooler durng 2020/2021’s COVID lockdown, donkeys of distinction gathered en masse at a Chelsea watering hole to hurl laurels at the three lions who served as the event’s main (mane?) attraction. In other words, members and friends of the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club (CRDC) held their annual brunch and awards ceremony at Bocca di Bacco (169 Ninth Ave. at W. 20th St.). Singled out for their “decades of dedication, and the work they have done for Chelsea and NYC” were Bill Borock, Mike McKee, and Pamela Wolff.
The following, a rundown of acceptance speech remarks from the grateful recipients, is punctuated by photos taken at the event. Congratulations to the trio of honorees, whose stellar track record of activism and achievement earned the accolades given by CRDC members (no slouches they, in the progressive causes department).—By Scott Stiffler
Mike McKee received the Thomas Duane Award in recognition of the need for all people to have decent, affordable housing. McKee’s award was presented by longtime Congressman Jerry Nadler. “I have reconstructed my brief remarks at the May 6 CRDC brunch,” wrote McKee, in response to a request from Chelsea Community News (CCNews). Of the task, he noted, “Fortunately my remarks were brief, and I have a good memory.”
I want to thank CRDC for this honor. And I want to thank Richie for the flowers, that was very sweet of you. I have lived in Chelsea since 1966. That’s 57 years, not quite as long as Pamela, but close. I love the neighborhood. I especially like the fact that we are mostly low-rise. But as an affordable housing advocate I recognize the contradiction, in that if we are ever to solve our affordable housing crisis it will require greater density.
While I appreciate the physical improvements we have seen over the years, I miss the old scruffy neighborhood when I first moved here. It was much more working class and much more diverse, racially, ethnically, and economically. Every third or fourth store on Eighth Avenue between 14th Street and 23rd Street was a Spanish-speaking business. Now after years of gentrification, we are much more white, and more white bread, if you know what I mean.
I want you to think about all the people who have been pushed out of Chelsea. We used to have a sizeable Spanish-speaking population, most of them Puerto Rican. Tenants have been harassed out, burned out, and priced out. It was not too many years ago when landlords sent goons into apartment buildings at 3:00 am with German shepherds and guns, banging on peoples’ doors and trying to frighten them into leaving.
Just one block north of this restaurant, at the corner of Ninth Avenue and 21st Street, is a building that used to be large family-sized apartments. One of the loopholes in the old rent control law allowed landlords to evict tenants if they wanted to subdivide larger apartments into smaller ones, on the grounds that it increased the housing supply. Like many other buildings in the neighborhood back then, the landlord applied for and won permission to evict the tenants. I am pretty sure it was 1971, Jane Wood and the Chelsea Coalition on Housing organized a blockade the day the police came. We stood at the entrance and tried to block the eviction. Of course, we failed. The cops pushed right through us and the remaining tenants were forced to leave, and the large family-sized apartments were chopped up.
The same thing happened at about the same time with two adjacent buildings on my block, 21st Street between Seventh and Eighth.
These are perilous times, but also times of great opportunity for organizing. We have a governor who thinks that locking up Black and Brown people pre-trial will enhance public safety, and who refuses to support tenants’ rights. And, I’m sorry, who helped deliver the House of Representatives to the Republicans.
I don’t know about you, but I have been depressed about the state budget, especially the weakening of the 2019 bail reforms. As the old saying goes, “Never underestimate the ability of Democrats to cave.”
Bill Borock received the CRDC’s Club Service Award “in recognition and grateful thanks for wonderful work in the community,” they noted. Borock’s award was presented by New York State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal. The below text—sent to CCNews by Borock upon request—is (like Beatlemania) not the original, but a stunning recreation.
When I was called up to receive my award, at first my twin brother attempted to get the award instead of me. This drew laughter from the attendees (he came to the brunch with a fake moustache and pretended to be me).
I thanked everybody for my award, which I was pleasantly surprised to receive and never expected it. It was hard to believe that I was the CCBA president for 34 years. I pointed to Sally Greenspan, the current president, and said since she’s only 35 years old she can be president for another 30 years.
As a follow-up to what Michael McKee said about landlords doing terrible things to get tenants out, I mentioned that CCBA formed a task force to deal with the landlords who lied to the Department of Buildings stating that no tenants lived in the buildings, so they did not have to do a Tenants Protection Plan. This task force did a fantastic job researching and finding many buildings in Chelsea where the landlords/developers lied on their application forms requesting approval to make changes to their buildings. This information was given to the Department of Buildings.
I mentioned that CCBA deals with many quality of life issues. One example is patrons of bars/restaurants getting drunk, making noise, and throwing up on the streets where residents live. The Il Bastardo was one of those restaurants. In this case there were a lot of women who got drunk on unlimited drinks. In fact, two women were seen urinating on the side of my building and someone took a photo of them and posted it on Facebook. The State Liquor Authority [SLA] shut the restaurant down.
One of the positive things that CCBA did was to arrange for micro-gardens to be planted on Sixth Avenue and to be adopted by residents on those blocks.
I noted that someone bought the oldest house in Chelsea and stated that his family would move in and children would attend the Avenues School. He claimed the house was uninhabitable and needed to be knocked down and rebuilt, which was contrary to what one of the Landmarks Preservation Commissioners [LPC] who visited the house said. Despite the community’s opposition, the LPC did approve the plan to knock the building down, leaving just the façade and to make it larger.
I mentioned the community’s fight against Barney’s when they wanted to expand and displace tenants, and that Roberta Gelb was part of that struggle. As a result of what the community did, Barney’s moved the tenants two blocks away and with the same rent they were paying in their rent-stabilized apartments.
I also mentioned the incident when somebody who just moved on to my block complained about the man across the street playing bongo drums. I told him that they lived here before we moved here.
When I went to my first Manhattan Community Board 4 (CB4) meeting and spoke, I mentioned the fact that I moved to Chelsea because it was racially and economically mixed. After the meeting, David Smith came over to me and said he appreciated what I said.
I mentioned that the Governor’s plan for Penn Station which includes displacing residents and businesses in the area is a bad plan and that I’m involved with a group trying to change it.
It should be noted that Brad Hoylman-Sigal asked my wife for information about me. She told Brad that I continue to be involved (virtually) with Chelsea issues, that I remain on the Boards of three groups and that I am now President Emeritus of the CCBA. She also told him that I’m currently very involved with the Penn Station project, trying to change the governor’s bad Plan.
And, both my wife and son mentioned my sense of humor.
Pamela Wolff received the Esther Smith Award for exceptional dedication and grateful thanks for the betterment of Chelsea. Her award was presented by NYC Council Member (and former Manhattan Borough President) Gale Brewer. The below remarks are from prepared remarks spoken by Wolff at the May 6 ceremony.
Well, this is lovely. Thank you. Thanks to all of you, and thank you Chelsea Reform Democratic Club.
Esther Smith led a little remembered struggle to bring small housing sites to Chelsea for the mentally challenged. Those sites are still in place, and are successfully integrated into the fabric of this neighborhood. Thank you Esther.
It is incredibly gratifying to be recognized for what I’ve always thought to be little more than showing up and chiming in. I guess if you keep doing that for 67 years, you get noticed!
It is especially gratifying to be noticed alongside living legends Bill Borock and Michael McKee. I stand among giants and feel very small.
When I look back on the work, sometimes decades of it, that it took all of us to make Chelsea so livable—and so green! I realize that every effective thing I may have done was learned from people who have left us: Bob Trentlyon, Ed Kirkland, Doris Corrigan, Dorothea MacElduff, Jane Wood, Susan Cohen, and now our Zazel. And people among us: Tom Fox, Burt Lazarin, Tom Duane, Dick Gottfried, Bill and Michael, and many others.
All have left their legacy in Chelsea and beyond—and their leadership has made it easy for me to be the follower I feel I have always-best-been.
Again, I want to thank the Club for this honor, and to acknowledge those leaders I have watched grow into their own shoes: Jeffrey La Francois, Erik Bottcher, Tony Simone, Layla Law-Gisiko, Brad Hoylman-Sigal. From fighting for more affordable housing, to insisting on a better plan for Penn Station, to finding new tools to improve the mental health of New Yorkers, I see the legacy projects of tomorrow in the everyday—and I mean every day—actions of these contemporary champions of Chelsea. There will always be work to be done, and they inspire me to show up, with my gloves on.
It has been quite a ride. Thank you.
If you have questions, please contact Inge Ivchenko at: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want to see what else is on CRDC’s calendar, go the CRDC calendar HERE.
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